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London Review of Education 

Volume 14, Number 2, September 2016 

DOI: 10.18546/LRE. 14.2.1 I 

Multilingualism and language learning: The Rome city report 

Michela Menghini* 

Universita deg// Studi di Roma Foro Italico (Language Centre) 

This article illustrates the findings on multilingualism related to the educational sphere in the 
city of Rome, within the scope and theoretical framework of the international project LUCIDE 
(Languages in Urban Communities - Integration and Diversity for Europe). Particularly, it 
describes the type of linguistic and cultural support offered to plurilingual citizens and the 
language teaching practices that have emerged from the study of the University of Rome 'Foro 
Italico’ Unit, as presented in the Rome city report (Evangelisti, et at., 2014; Menghini, 2015). 
The symbolic and pragmatic uses of languages, their status, and their visibility in educational 
practices are particularly highlighted, as part of the challenges related to the city authorities’ 
approach to multilingualism, particularly for the educational field.The role of public and private 
institutions, and their interaction in language learning practices and in the educational support 
for plurilinguals and foreigners in Rome are investigated and considered in light of the national 
language and education policies and guidelines. The article’s conclusions indicate some possible 
steps for improvement in educational practices at city level, to better support plurilingual 
citizens and to effectively face the challenges of multilingualism. 

Keywords: multilingualism; plurilingualism; diversity; language learning; intercultural 


The international project LUCIDE (Languages in Urban Communities - Integration and Diversity 
for Europe) investigated the realities of language use and communication processes in several 
European Union (and a few non-EU) cities, with the aim of developing pragmatic information 
and recommendation toolkits on multilingualism, as experienced in the cities, for stakeholders, 
authorities, and the general public (see the editorial for full details on the general project).The 
research, carried out from 2011 to 2014, was organized according to five main, often overlapping, 
aspects of city life: education, the public sphere, the economic sphere, the private lives of citizens, 
and the urban space. The 16 partners that contributed to the project were universities and 
civic institutions, each focusing on the analysis of a different city (or cities). This article aims 
to illustrate the findings of LUCIDE research related to education, and linguistic and cultural 
support for integration, concerning the city of Rome, which have emerged from the study of 
the University of Rome ‘Foro Italico’ and which are presented in the LUCIDE Rome city report 
(Evangelisti, et at., 2014; Menghini, 2015). 

Within the project, the terms ‘multilingualism’ and ‘plurilingualism’ refer to societal and 
individual multilingualism, respectively, according to the distinction drawn in the work of the 
Council of Europe (Beacco and Byram, 2005; Beacco and Byram, 2007). Societal multilingualism 
is the co-existence of many languages, in this case within a city. Plurilingualism indicates an 
individual’s repertoire of languages. Moreover, for the purposes of this article, the term 

* Corresponding author - email; 

©Copyright 2016 Menghini.This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative 
Commons Attribution Licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any 
medium, provided the original author and source are credited. 

158 Michela Menghini 

‘intercultural’ is employed in reference to the dynamic encounter and interaction of people 
from different cultures, and to indicate the places, activities, services, and so on, in which such 
interaction occurs (Trevisani, 2005; Huber and Reynolds, 2014). 

The theoretical framework for the Rome research, as for the LUCIDE project in general, 
investigated communicative processes and practices within a typology of language use: 

• symbolic/representational use of language (realities of everyday life - how language is 
used to send messages, acknowledge communities, etc.) 

• transactional/communicative use (e.g. pragmatic use and unofficial acceptance of 
multilingualism by authorities, for communicative efficiency) 

• authoritative/directive use (official, uni-directional, tending towards monolingualism). 

Thus, the analysis concerned citizens’ and authorities’ practices, decisions, attitudes, and choices 
in language use, rather than focusing on figures and quantitative aspects. Differences in language 
visibility and status were investigated and our research clearly identified a perceived dichotomy 
between socioeconomically desirable, useful, and thus valued languages, and less desirable (and 
even somehow negatively connoted) languages of little use and value. The most widespread 
European languages, and especially English, manifest a ‘prestigious’ status and easily receive 
support, recognition, and respect. Less widespread European or non-European languages, such 
as most migrants’ origin languages, are often attributed a non-prestigious status and are easily 
neglected and unrecognized (see Stoicheva, 2016: 101-5). 

The type of data that were collected comprised, first of all, publicly available (mostly 
online) information concerning national and minority language use and language learning, such 
as regulations, policies, reports, projects, celebrations, best practices, school programmes, 
dedicated city spaces, websites, and so on. At the same time, a list of the possible stakeholders 
working in multilingual contexts (both in the public and private sectors) or who were otherwise 
interested in multilingualism was compiled. Such stakeholders were consequently contacted 
for informal semi-structured interviews, to gather some insights on opinions, experiences, and 
attitudes regarding language practices and multilingualism in Rome.Visual photographic evidence 
of language use in urban spaces was also personally gathered by researchers, to integrate the 
general picture of languages in the city. 

All the data were organized and analysed according to the above mentioned five spheres 
of city life and contributed to the Rome LUCIDE workshop in March 2013, as well as to the 
other project workshops and seminars.The ensuing further evidence of practices and language 
use, along with the previously collected data, were included in one of the final products of the 
projects - the Rome city report. 

Focusing on the city report data related to education, this article presents Italian national 
laws and policies on languages, along with general observations on the approach to linguistic 
diversity in the national educational system, as an introduction to the authoritative, official 
position on language use and language learning for Italy and, consequently, Rome. 

The role of public and private institutions, and their interaction in language learning practices 
and in the educational support for plurilinguals and foreigners in Rome, are then analysed in the 
following two sections according to the LUCIDE findings.The symbolic and pragmatic uses of 
languages, and their status and visibility in educational practices, are particularly highlighted.The 
main challenges related to the city authorities’ approach to multilingualism, particularly for the 
educational field and also in light of comments of the interviewed stakeholders, are subsequently 
pointed out in the following section. 

Finally, a further, recent step in the research on multilingualism and education is preliminarily 
presented. In order to gather additional insight about the way Rome’s young citizens perceive 

London Review of Education 159 

multilingualism and language practices in education, adapted versions of the LUCIDE interview 
questions (see Appendices A and B) were submitted to a small group of‘Foro Italico’ university 
students. A qualitative analysis of their responses illustrates further elements contributing to the 
general conclusions of this article, on the measures taken in the city of Rome in the educational 
field, and the further steps necessary to face the challenges of multilingualism. 

National laws and policies on languages and education 

According to the law, Italy (and, consequently, the city of Rome) only has one official language, 
although some regions have special provisions for other languages and some linguistic minorities 
are catered for under the law.As specified in the Rome city report (Evangelisti et a/., 2014: II- 
12, 48), while Act 482/99 - ‘Norms on the protection of historical linguistic minorities’ (Italian 
Parliament, 1999) - states that Italian is the official national language, it also recognizes and 
protects 12 so-called ‘historical’ minority cultures and languages in Italy, mostly of bordering 
countries (Albanian, Catalan, German, Greek, Slovenian, Croatian, French, Provenqal, Friulian, 
Ladin, Occitan, Sardinian). Furthermore, it regulates their use in public acts and institutions, and 
their teaching in schools and universities, especially in special regions at the borders, such as 
Trentino Alto Adige and Valle d’Aosta. At the same time, in the field of education, the Italian law 
provides for the total equality of foreign and Italian children (regardless of stay permits and/or 
the legal or illegal position of their parents), and specifically mentions that cultural and language 
diversity is welcome in Italian schools, and that courses in heritage languages and cultures are 
to be organized for immigrant children (Act 286/98, Article 38:‘Instruction of foreign subjects. 
Intercultural Education’). The same equality principle applies to access to university courses 
(Article 39), as the right to instruction is the same for foreign citizens as for Italian citizens. 

‘Foreign citizens’ in official acts generally refer to foreign adults who already have (or are 
entitled to obtain) a residence permit. One of the conditions for non-EU foreigners to acquire 
a residence permit is to have a basic knowledge of the Italian language (Act 94/2009); and in a 
2010 Act (Decreto Ministeriale [Ministerial Decree] no. 134), the Home Office and the Ministry 
of Education (2010a) established the procedures for taking the necessary Italian language test 
(unless a recognized certification has already been acquired).The Home Office and the Ministry 
of Education (2010b) also signed a framework agreement ( accordo quadro) in 2010 for the 
organization and delivery of free courses to teach basic reading and writing skills in Italian, as 
well as in socio-legal culture, to be offered in 19 languages. Such pilot courses in ‘language and 
socio-legal integration’, organized by local schools in each region, count towards the obtaining of 
a residence permit for migrants. adult education projects in the languages and cultures of the foreigners’ countries 
of origin have so far been implemented on such a national scale. Only in the sector of children’s 
education have many schools organized extracurricular language courses (both for foreign and 
Italian students) in the (non-EU) languages and cultures of origin of the specific school population, 
as reported in the Ministry of Education’s (2014) Guidelines for the Integration of Foreign Students, 
the new and updated version of a 2006 document. The new version was necessary, as stated 
in the short online introductory article, because of the great changes in Italian schools relating 
to the number of foreign students, which grew from 430,000 (in 2006) to 830,000 (in 2014). 
The 2014 guidelines actually include a sub-section on plurilingualism and quote statements and 
principles from the Council of Europe’s Guide for the Development and Implementation of Curricula 
for Plurilingual and Intercultural Education (Beacco et al„ 2010).They also offer brief examples of 
activities and good practices to promote linguistic diversity in schools, including multilingual 
welcome signs, entry tests, stories, and fairy tales, and, as mentioned, extracurricular courses 

160 Michela Menghini 

in the languages and cultures of origin. Interestingly, these are similar to the good practices 
mentioned in the (much more detailed) LUCIDEToolkits on ‘Learning new languages’ (LUCIDE, 
2014a) and on ‘Multilingualism in education - bilingual and multilingual learners’ (LUCIDE, 2014b), 
as well as in the LUCIDE Rome city report.Thus, while plurilingualism and linguistic diversity are 
welcomed and promoted according to official documents and regulations, actual resources have 
so far only been granted on a vast scale for projects regarding Italian. Schools are mostly left on 
their own to provide for education on heritage languages and cultures, on a local scale, with no 
overarching coordination and thus little funding and resources. 

From the educational point of view, both on a local and on a national scale, the Romany 
population constitutes a special case with peculiar characteristics, also as demonstrated in our 
LUCIDE research.They have been in Rome, and in Italy, for a long time, but are not recognized 
as a linguistic minority by the Italian law.They mostly live in camps in the city outskirts, some in 
legal ‘equipped’ camps and some in illegal camps in miserable life conditions. A specific project 
of Rome City Council, co-funded by the Lazio region and which has been ongoing since 1991, 
grants education to minors who live in so-called‘Rom equipped camps’, or in a few help centres/ 
shelters, or in ‘Rom non-equipped camps’. A small number of social cooperatives participate 
in the project, which, according to recent data, involves approximately 2,100 students from 13 
camps/centres and almost 300 (lower and higher level) schools all over the city outskirts (Rome 
City Council, 2014).The volunteers and social cooperative workers,among other responsibilities, 
also offer linguistic support for the Romany students in dedicated Italian language lessons. 

However, according to recent reports (De Acutis, 2011; Arrighi et a/., 201 I), most Romany 
students rarely achieve the minimum learning objectives, owing to several reasons, including some 
teachers’ lingering prejudices and their attitude of lower expectations and lower engagement 
in the school programme for Romany students. Therefore, access to higher education and to 
university for them seems mostly a utopian objective in the present situation (in 2009/10 only 
80 Romany students attended high schools in Rome, according to De Acutis, 201 I). Finally, it is 
important to note that the existing projects unfortunately do not include the minors who live in 
illegal camps.This practice seems to actually clash with the general norms that grant education 
to all young people, regardless of the legal or illegal situation of their families.The unrecognized 
status of the Romany language as a minority language confirms the peculiar situation of the 
Romany people in a city and a country whose practices seem partly at odds with official policies 
that nominally support intercultural and plurilingual education. 

As for general language policies concerning education for all citizens, foreign (mostly 
European) languages are an obligatory part of the curriculum in Italian schools, both state and 
private, at all levels of instruction (Act 53/2003).At least one foreign language course is included 
and compulsory in all kinds of schools from primary (in which English is the only obligatory 
language) to higher education (including university). Courses for two languages are usually 
offered from the first grade at secondary school, with a choice among English, French, German, 
and Spanish. English tends to be the first and the most widespread option, as special emphasis 
and a higher status is usually attributed to English by parents and society at large. However, there 
are high schools (such as Liceo Linguistico) as well as a number of university degree courses 
(e.g. in Eastern languages) specializing in, and offering a wider range of, other foreign languages. 

As a further attempt to widen the scope and strengthen the effectiveness of language 
teaching and learning through a plurilingual approach, according to the 2010 national law 
reform of secondary schools at second grade (particularly Presidential Decrees no. 87, 88, 89), 
courses adopting the Content and Language Integrated Learning methodology were obligatorily 
introduced in a number of classes in all types of high schools in the country. However, such 
courses are offered mostly in English or, less frequently, in French. 

London Review of Education 161 

Therefore, a gap seems to exist between official documents and regulations supporting 
linguistic diversity and plurilingualism in education, and the actual practices - which mainly 
focus on Italian for foreigners and on a few widespread, prestigious European languages, and 
which tend to neglect less widespread origin languages.There seems to be a tension in national 
authorities between the need to teach Italian to non-EU foreigners, and the parallel need to 
preserve their origin languages and provide for services in such languages.The tension is both 
at symbolic and practical levels. In line with the country policy of the national language, the 
authorities established Italian as the necessary language to officially enter Italian society and the 
work market, thus attributing huge symbolic value to it, besides recognizing its pragmatic use.As 
in other EU countries and LUCIDE cities (see Skrandies, 2016), proficiency in the official language 
in Italy is (simplistically and nationalistically) equated with the first step towards integration and 
the right and ability to live and work in Italy for non-EU foreigners. Conversely, in compliance 
with EU mobility laws, no obligatory courses and tests are required for EU citizens.At the same 
time, following EU guidelines and according to recent official documents, the authorities also 
favour support for plurilinguals and linguistic diversity in schools, granting some recognition and, 
thus, symbolic value to origin languages, and encouraging a positive linguistic identity. However, 
on a pragmatic level, the public education system assigns few resources to, and enacts very 
limited provisions for, less prestigious origin languages. In Rome, other public and private entities 
take on the challenge of catering for the needs of such neglected language speakers, as shown in 
the following two sections. 

The role of public authorities in language teaching and learning 

The provisions of the national law, framework agreements, and guidelines on language teaching 
also apply, as mentioned, to the city of Rome and its schools. Particularly, according to LUCIDE 
research, there are a number of measures taken in the city’s state schools and universities to 
support education in Italian culture and language, plurilingualism, intercultural exchange, and 
sociocultural integration (Evangelisti, et a/., 2014: 10-13).This section presents the most relevant 
examples of such educational measures. 

As in most Italian universities, Italian as a foreign language courses are offered in the four 
state universities of the city, aimed at the numerous exchange students spending one or more 
terms in Rome universities as part of European and non-EU exchange programmes. For example, 
the University of Rome ‘Foro Italico’ offers Tempus postgraduate programmes in cooperation 
with Egypt, Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia, as well as an international master’s degree and 
an international PhD programme, therefore providing for such students’ linguistic and cultural 

As part of the national framework agreement, free courses in the Italian language and 
culture for migrants and refugees are organized in the Lazio region and in Rome, both through 
the public (i.e. state) education system and through private schools and voluntary associations. 
The public education system is primarily in charge of preparing and administering the exams 
and issuing certificates for the work and residence permits. Permanent Local Centres (Centri 
Territoriali Permanent; 12 in Rome, 37 in the Lazio region) were set up to host and offer free 
Italian language courses in preparation of these exams. However, such centres and courses are 
hardly enough to meet the migrants’ requests.Thus, voluntary and private associations are also 
usually involved, in cooperation with Rome City Council and the Lazio region (see the next 
section for further details). 

Besides such educational programmes provided on a national level, our research identified a 
number of city-level projects organized and supported by local authorities, focusing on language 

162 Michela Menghini 

learning and services for plurilinguals and migrants. First of all, with the aim of facilitating 
intercultural exchange and integration between migrant and Italian communities, the Education 
and School Office of the City Council has been funding the Polo Intermundia project since 2003. 
The project is open to all citizens, schools, and associations of the first municipality of the city, 
which is the central city area. Its headquarters are located at the Manin School, in the multicultural 
Esquilino quarter, and it functions as an intercultural educational centre for minors and adults. 
Its programme is established by representatives of Rome City Council, the municipality, the 
Manin School, and the Di Donato School Parents’Association (Associazione Genitori Scuola’Di 
Donato’, 2010), and its activities comprise courses in Italian as a foreign language and culture; 
courses in origin languages and cultures; and intercultural seminars and workshops. Moreover, 
within the project, cultural-linguistic mediation services in several languages are provided, on 
demand, at the Manin School, to facilitate communication between teachers and students’ 
families as well as within the local communities (Scuola Manin, n.d.). 

Remarkably, a key role in plurilingual education is played in Rome by the libraries network 
of the City Council (Biblioteche di Roma) and their Intercultural Office (Servizio Intercultura). 
As gathered from our research and further illustrated by Gabriella Sanna, head of the office, 
during the LUCIDE Rome workshop in 2013 (Sanna, 2013; Evangelisti et al., 2013), since 1994 the 
libraries Intercultural Office has offered services and developed projects aimed at social inclusion 
of new citizens in local communities. Recently, a number of multilingual and multicultural services 
and projects have been started in many city libraries. For instance, the ‘Biblioteche in lingua’ 
project (Libraries in foreign languages) aims to promote bilingualism/plurilingualism as a source 
of valuable and cultural richness for migrants, and to preserve origin languages and cultures for 
both the adults and the new generations. Within this project, according to recent Rome City 
Council data on the presence of migrants and with the help of cultural mediators, at least 18 
libraries in different areas of Rome have added special sections of books in the languages of the 
largest local foreign communities (including Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Polish, Rumanian, 
Russian, Ukrainian, and Urdu). Access to all books and libraries is free of charge for anyone, 
with the only condition of subscribing to the libraries (also free of charge). In 2008, in order to 
support social integration and an active citizenship, the libraries network started another project, 
one of the first of this kind in Italy, called ‘L’italiano in biblioteca’ (Italian language in libraries). 
This is an ongoing educational project, offering free Italian language courses for foreigners within 
the spaces of public libraries, to facilitate orientation in the city services and society, as well as 
the acquisition of the language. Such courses, organized with the cooperation of several different 
associations and volunteer bodies, are particularly aimed at vulnerable groups - for example, 
refugees and Muslim women. 

As highlighted by Sanna (2013), the important difference between the courses organized 
by libraries and those by the Permanent Local Centres, public schools, and private associations, 
is that libraries are unaligned, open, and neutral places from a religious, educational, political, 
and social point of view, where everyone can enter, families can bring their children, and where 
they can take part in all the library activities together with other library users. The end-of- 
course parties organized at the libraries, featuring typical food, dances, and music, have been 
particularly successful in bringing together the students, their families, local language experts, 
and the interested and curious members of the local (both Italian and foreign) communities. 
Such good intercultural and multilingual practices have also led to a 10 to 30 per cent increase 
in new registered library users who are foreign in recent years (i.e. 2010 to 2012), compared 
with the total of new registered users, according to 2012 data of the libraries network (ibid.). 
All the libraries’ activities and events are regularly promoted by and illustrated in the Roma 
Multietnica website ( and newsletter, run by the Intercultural Office. 

London Review of Education 163 

The website includes a list of the libraries participating in the various projects and the foreign 
languages sections they offer, as well as information about all the city’s intercultural events and 
the foreign communities in Rome, their literatures and cultures, with the aim of welcoming 
migrants, encouraging diversity, and promoting everyone’s participation in library and city life. 

Thus, such specific projects organized at a city level by local authorities seem to cater, at 
least in part, to plurilingual citizens’ and migrants’ linguistic needs more effectively, and through 
a wider number of good practices than the national level ones.Though hardly enough compared 
to the number and variety of linguistic communities in the city, these projects contribute to give 
both pragmatic and symbolic support and visibility to less widespread languages.They provide 
resources as well as education and mediation services in several origin languages, while national 
level projects seem to focus exclusively on Italian language and culture courses, as mentioned 
previously. Moreover, the outcomes of local projects with citizens’ involvement show that, 
when resources are dedicated to facilitating intercultural encounters and to visibly supporting 
multilingualism in city spaces, such spaces appeal to a wider number of citizens, and the fabric of 
social cooperation within them is strengthened. A considerable amount of similar measures and 
activities for the support of multilingualism is also undertaken by the private sector, whose key 
role in language educational programmes in Rome is illustrated in the next section. 

The role of private associations and institutions in language teaching and 

According to our LUCIDE research, a recurring characteristic of most of the educational projects 
regarding multilingualism in Rome is that private local organizations are actively involved and 
often crucial to the success and completion of the activities, even when the public authorities 
and national and city institutions fund them and organize them. In the city report (Evangelisti, 
et a/., 2014:22-9), the Rome team identified a large number of private, non-profit, and voluntary 
associations working in the city in the fields of intercultural services and plurilingual education. 
This section presents some of the most interesting language learning and intercultural projects 
such associations contribute to, and some of the most relevant private linguistic educational 

ScuoleMigranti is a prominent network created in 2009 and connecting approximately 100 
private associations and schools, offering Italian language courses to migrants in the city and 
province of Rome. They cooperate with the authorities in the organization of Italian language 
and culture courses, and in facilitating cultural-linguistic integration, social inclusion, and civic and 
legal education for migrants and refugees in Rome and Lazio.The courses of this network are 
free of charge, with a low beginner’s threshold so as to allow access to citizens with educational 
shortcomings and to disadvantaged groups.The most recent data of the network (ScuoleMigranti, 
n.d.) show that the number of adults who took part in the free Italian language courses in its 
schools was larger than the number of those in the Permanent Local Centres of the city council 
and Lazio region. In 2014-15, approximately 12,000 foreign citizens attended courses offered by 
the network, while about 8,000 attended Permanent Local Centre courses, according to a report 
in PiuCulture’s magazine (Agostini, 2015). 

PiuCulture ( is one of the voluntary associations of the 
ScuoleMigranti Network and it has been active since 2010 in the second municipality of Rome. 
It primarily cooperates with state schools in order to support and integrate foreign and migrant 
children, and it runs its own online weekly magazine, covering all aspects of intercultural life, 
news, and activities for foreigners in Rome. Its volunteers act as intercultural mediators in public 
schools (particularly in Tagalog and Mandarin Chinese) and offer migrants’ children free Italian 

164 Michela Menghini 

language lessons, to facilitate their admission and inclusion at school. Such important practices in 
public educational contexts with children are not part of nationally funded projects, and mostly 
rely on the work of private voluntary associations and social cooperatives. 

Programma Integra ( is a very active social cooperative, organizing 
activities for the integration of migrants and refugees in Rome since 2005 (Evangelisti, et a/., 
2014: 15). For most of its projects, this cooperative works in agreement with the City Council 
Immigration Office, the City Council Social Services, and the Healthcare Services Office. It also 
actively contributed to the LUCIDE project, presenting its work and experiences at the LUCIDE 
workshops in Rome and Madrid.Among its projects, Programma Integra periodically runs courses 
in Italian language and socio-legal orientation, and provides professional training for migrants and 
refugees. As part of its cooperation with the Public Register of Cultural-Linguistic Mediators of 
Rome City, it also offers educational support through the organization of multilingual training 
courses for the registered intercultural mediators. However, as illustrated by Valentina Fabbri, 
president of Programma Integra, at the LUCIDE Rome workshop (Fabbri, 2013; Evangelisti et a/., 
2013), one of the greatest challenges encountered by the association in its everyday activities 
is that the Rome City Council staff and procedures often put up obstacles rather than provide 
support. Social workers in city council offices seem to obstinately cling to their methods and 
techniques, rejecting new technologies and new systems of communication and mediation.These 
observations particularly applied to the association work for the SITI project (‘Servizi integrati e 
tecnologie dell’incontro’ [Integrated systems and technologies for the intercultural encounter]; 
Programma Integra, 2016), which consisted of multilingual mediation services through video calls 
over the internet.The unwillingness to shift to new methods might partly constitute the reason 
for the termination of such an interesting and promising project, after only two years of activity. 
In the Rome team’s experience, none of the city council office workers or managers replied to 
invitations to take part in or to be interviewed for the LUCIDE project (with the exception 
of the Intercultural Office of the city’s library network), which seems to also indicate a lack of 
interest in projects on multilingualism in the city. 

As a final example: since 2011, through the ‘Futuro prossimo: Percorsi di apprendimento 
linguistico per cittadini stranieri’ project, the religious organization CARITAS (Roman Catholic 
relief,development,and social service organization) and the charity and social service organization, 
Fondazione di Roma, have run free Italian language courses for foreigners and migrants. Such 
courses take place in the central city area, where the CARITAS Centro di Ascolto Stranieri 
(Counselling Centre for Foreign Citizens) is located, and where the educational opportunities 
offered by other institutions barely provide for half of the actual needs, in the CARITAS centre’s 

According to our research, several other private cultural organizations and language 
institutes carry out a large number of smaller-scale activities in Rome for the support of linguistic 
diversity and plurilingual education, especially courses (with admission fees) in foreign languages 
and cultures. Moreover, out of the several bilingual and multilingual schools in Rome, at all 
levels of education, most are indeed private.The most prominent ones are those attended by a 
large number of Italian children, whose parents are either bi-national or of a multicultural and 
plurilingual European/North American background. The majority of such schools are bilingual 
Italian/British or American English, though renowned bilingual schools are available for other 
languages too (particularly German, Spanish, French, Polish, and Japanese). A notable exception 
is the Liceo Scientifico Internazionale con opzione Lingua Cinese, at Rome’s Convitto Nazionale 
‘Vittorio Emanuele II’, a public institute hosting a high school with optional Chinese language 
classes, in addition to the usual English language classes. 

London Review of Education 165 

The examples in this section seem to show that, in Rome, private institutes, voluntary 
associations, and social cooperatives strive to compensate for the shortcomings of public 
institutions in linguistic services and courses - which are inadequate both in number and in 
variety.The role of the private sector in educational programmes seems particularly crucial for 
the support of less ‘prestigious languages’. In fact, the work of private organizations positively 
contributes to the status and visibility of origin languages in the urban spaces more consistently 
than that of the public sector. However, most of the activities and projects undertaken by private 
associations are of narrow scope, limited to specific areas of the city and to specific spheres 
of interest. Inevitably, they often depend on short-term funding and on the time, work, and 
resources of volunteers. A more general approach to facing the challenges of multilingualism 
could be more effective to cater for citizens’ needs and to take advantage of the linguistic 
richness of a multicultural city, as further discussed in the next section. 

Interviews with stakeholders: Challenges for the city’s multilingual 

The main challenges regarding multilingualism from the educational point of view, as revealed 
by our study, also emerge from the qualitative analysis of the stakeholders’ interviews for the 
LUCIDE project (Evangelisti, et at., 2014: 22-9, 44-7; Menghini 2015: 10-1 l).The aim of the 
interview process was to collect stakeholders’ opinions and first-hand information on language 
practices and challenges for plurilingual citizens.A list of interested parties was compiled during 
our initial desk research when projects, documents, best practices, and institutions related to 
multilingualism in Rome were identified, along with the people involved in them.The list included 
volunteers or workers in associations, unions, cooperatives, civil servants, and managers in public 
offices. An adapted questionnaire (in Italian; see Appendix A) was submitted to such stakeholders, 
together with an invitation to participate in the project. Only a small number of them replied, 
resulting in ten collected interviews, from respondents of both Italian and foreign nationalities. 
Such a small sample cannot of course lead to generalizations, but it nonetheless provides valuable 
insights into the experiences and points of view of interested parties. 

The questionnaire was administered through different methods, according to the availability 
and preferences of the various interviewees: through face-to-face interviews, which were audio- 
recorded where possible (granted the interviewees’ informed consent), or via email or telephone. 
All data were used and presented as anonymous. According to their own self-definition, two 
interviewees are monolingual and the rest, bilingual/plurilingual. All of them are actively engaged 
in multilingual/multicultural activities and contexts, for their work and/or personal lives. As 
already mentioned, we could not fail to notice that most city council offices did not reply to our 
invitation and thus did not take part in the interview process. 

The gathered responses on the city’s approach to multilingualism seem in line with other 
evidence of our research: they mostly agree that more support from the city authorities is 
necessary to properly support linguistic diversity and to cater for the needs of the multicultural 
population of the city. A coordinated approach and a general city policy on languages and 
multilingualism are deemed possible important steps to take for the city’s public authorities, 
as explicitly suggested by two interviewees. Such steps would contribute to promoting the 
good practices and the many language teaching activities, currently carried out by the private 
and voluntary associations, as mentioned in the responses and as illustrated in the previous 
section. One interviewee suggested that a structural, citywide approach should substitute the 
numberless, always renewing projects, to satisfy the needs connected to multilingualism. An 
insufficient interaction between the city authorities and the associations working with migrants 

166 Michela Menghini 

was explicitly pointed out, by another interviewee, as an obstacle to best practices.Thus, these 
stakeholders’ opinions seem to confirm our findings that services and provisions enacted by 
state and local authorities are barely adequate for the plurilingual communities in the city. To 
be effective, public support for projects of local organizations on multilingualism needs more 
consistency and a long-term vision. The impression of numberless disjointed activities carried 
out with limited (if any) public funds in specific areas of the city, or for specific groups of citizens, 
is also confirmed in these respondents’ experiences. Indeed, on a similar note, a coordinated, 
inclusive approach, with general provisions aimed at all children in need of language support - 
regardless of their origins - could also favour the school progress of the Romany children, as 
gathered from Arrighi et o/.’s report (201 I). 

Furthermore, interviewees claimed that more support and attention to languages in general 
are necessary in the city of Rome, both for foreign languages (in school teaching, signposting, 
information sheets, websites, etc.) and for Italian as a foreign language (with a demand for more 
courses for migrants and foreigners, and for more mediation/translation services). Responses on 
language visibility mention English and French as the most visible languages in Rome, though a 
few other languages, such as Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish, are also acknowledged. Italian 
seems to be tacitly implied and is only indicated as most visible by one respondent. Concerning 
the need for more visibility, interviewees list a variety of neglected languages, especially Chinese, 
Bengali, and African languages. However, English is considered by two of the interviewees as a 
useful language that should be more widespread. The gathered responses clearly reflect the 
everyday experience of working and interacting mostly with migrants and plurilinguals from non- 
EU countries, and so express the difficulties and needs of such citizens. Our (mostly plurilingual) 
stakeholders manifest an acute awareness of the symbolic and pragmatic role of languages, 
especially origin languages, in city life, and lament the dearth of resources and consideration 
devoted to them. For a different perspective, the next section shows the points of view on 
multilingualism of a small group of university students who replied to a similar questionnaire. 

Preliminary analysis of University of Rome *Foro Italico’ students’ 

As a further step in the research on multilingualism in Rome, a slightly different version of the 
adapted questionnaire was administered to a number of‘Foro Italico’ students, in order to gather 
their opinions, as students and as language learners/speakers, on multilingualism and language 
learning in the city. The questionnaire was adapted to the university context (see Appendix B) 
and distributed in classes in written form, either on paper or through an online form, depending 
on practical reasons (such as number of students in class and number of available computers). 
Participating students attend the second year of the bachelor’s degree course in Physical 
Education and Sport, and include a small number of Erasmus students and one so-called ‘foreign 
student’ (from Venezuela, studying in Rome for the entire BA degree course).They responded 
to the questions anonymously and on a voluntary basis in December 2015/January 2016, before 
or after their English or Italian as a foreign language classes, to a total of 85 collected responses. 
This is far from a representative sample, but their answers and the opinions expressed by several 
of them help to cast an interesting light on the way multilingualism can be perceived in Rome by 
young citizens, especially in comparison with the LUCIDE respondents. Of the 12 participating 
Erasmus students (five from Portugal, four from Spain, and one each from Germany, Hungary, 
and Poland), only four asked for the questionnaire in English, rather than in Italian. Unlike the 
stakeholders in the LUCIDE interviews, most of these students claimed to be monolingual 
(Italian), while 30 of them identify themselves as bilingual, and only ten as plurilingual. However, 

London Review of Education 167 

the vast majority (79) said that they consider multilingualism important for the city of Rome. 
Interestingly, the students’ opinions differ from those of the LUCIDE stakeholders on the themes 
of multilingualism, the city’s approach to it, and the desirable changes. 

First of all, almost half of the students chose not to answer the question about the general 
city approach, or replied that they did not know about it. They evidently feel less directly 
affected and are less personally interested in, or aware of, the issues and initiatives relating to 
multilingualism in Rome than the LUCIDE interviewees. However, more than half of the students 
replied affirmatively to the question on whether they would like to make any changes to the city 
approach. Many affirmative replies include the students’ desiderata, which are mostly related to 
language learning. Indeed, most of the desirable changes mentioned are specifically related to 
English language courses. Respondents wish there were more courses at school, that the courses 
were more effective, and that English classes started at an earlier age for children. These are 
clearly general changes that refer to the Italian school system, not just to the capital city. 

Moreover, and more specifically, English is considered the most important language for Rome 
according to 54 responses to the question on language visibility (the second most important 
language according to the responses is Chinese, mentioned by ten students). English is also 
considered one of the most visible languages in Rome by 54 students, while 14 students consider 
Spanish as very visible, and only I I students (most of them from the Erasmus group) mention 
Italian as the most visible language.All these students’ attention seems quite focused on the key 
role of English as a global, useful language, and on the shortcomings of their school experiences 
as English language learners. Most of the Erasmus students, instead, specified Italian as the most 
visible language and reported a scarcity of competence and the rare use of any foreign language 
in the city. However, Erasmus respondents seem to agree with Italian respondents that the 
language most in need of support in its use and visibility in Rome is English. 

The responses to the question about the university’s approach to translation and 
interpretation of foreign languages are mixed, but mostly point in the same direction. Only 19 
respondents explicitly said they find the approach appropriate, while 12 students (including a 
few of the foreign ones) said the approach is not appropriate at all or not satisfyingly so. The 
stated difficulties, for those who considered the approach unsatisfying, are mainly a perceived 
insufficient competence in English and a lack of related linguistic support. Such difficulties were 
reported both by the majority of the Italian students and by the few Erasmus students. The 
former group feel they do not speak/understand English well enough, while the latter group 
said they do not speak/understand Italian well enough and added that not enough people speak 
English at university. Interestingly, the dissatisfied foreign students did not explicitly mention a 
lack of support for their own Italian language learning or understanding.They only mentioned the 
low proficiency in English of the Italians that they encountered. Unequivocally, English is the focus 
of attention, and the lack of proficiency in English (one’s own or other people’s) is the main 
source of perceived linguistic problems from these respondents’ point of view. Other languages, 
including Italian and especially non-EU languages, seem quite marginal in comparison. In these 
students’ responses, the city’s multilingualism is mostly narrowed down to a pragmatic and 
economically valuable bilingualism, as determined by globalization and expectations for the work 
market. Although a few students wish for an open-minded attitude of citizens towards foreign 
languages in general, and for multilingualism in signposting and information points around the city 
(unexpectedly, two Italian students mentioned that), most of the participating students failed to 
notice non-EU languages around the city. Accordingly, they also did not mention such languages 
among those in need of support and recognition in the city.The prestigious status of English and 
its perceived high communicative and symbolic value as the main language for work and tourism 

168 Michela Menghini 

is at the centre of these respondents’ view of life in the city, and of the linguistic priorities in 
educational programmes. 

As a future development, besides involving a larger number of students, including from the 
master’s degrees, it might be interesting to administer the same questionnaire to the (usually less 
numerous) students who chose French or Spanish as a foreign language in the same bachelor’s 
degree course. 

Concluding remarks 

The findings of our LUCIDE research in general show that multilingualism is of course a reality in 
Rome. Several different languages and multicultural communities are heard and seen around the 
city, which is also visited daily by thousands of international tourists and hosts a large number of 
international students. Quite a lot of projects, initiatives, and activities are in place to provide for 
the needs of plurilingual speakers in the city, organized both by public institutions and by private 
and voluntary associations. However, according to our study, the vital role of multilingualism is 
not always entirely perceived and emphasized, either by citizens or at a citywide coordinated 

Particularly, the many provisions in the educational sphere set up by Rome City Council 
and by other authorities for plurilinguals and foreigners, reflecting the national frameworks and 
legislation, focus mainly on courses of Italian as a foreign language and on school courses in the 
most common European languages, especially English. Only to a lesser extent do they provide for 
courses and support for the migrants’ origin languages, despite the statements in national official 
documents. Among the few good practices in the public sector, the city library network emerges 
as most active on a wide variety of language courses, multilingual support, and multicultural 
integration. The libraries network partly also takes on the role of coordinating structure for 
many plurilingual educational activities in the city, with an unaligned, non-political, and non¬ 
religious stance. It consistently offers free open spaces for such activities to take place, as well 
as giving them visibility and publicity through its website and newsletter. In cooperation with 
libraries and other state institutions, a large number of private and volunteer associations focus 
on assistance to migrants and to plurilinguals in general, through a variety of language-related 
educational projects and activities. At least in part, libraries and such private organizations seem 
to contribute to a positive linguistic identity for foreign citizens, and to balance out the status 
and visibility of neglected origin languages. 

However, according to our study, a structured city-level approach seems necessary, to tackle 
the different aspects of multilingualism with consistent, effective strategies. City council and/or 
regional policies specifically addressing multilingualism and the city’s linguistic needs, as suggested 
by an interviewee, could be a first step towards a wider acknowledgement and support of the many 
languages in Rome. Consistent public support for educational programmes for origin languages 
may favour the sociocultural integration of migrants and more fruitful intercultural exchanges, 
as the experiences of libraries and small-scale projects have shown. Increased visibility and a rise 
in status for less widespread languages could also have a positive backwash on language learning 
and teaching in general. Particularly, this could contribute to raising young citizens’ awareness of 
the reality and advantages of multilingualism, beyond a mere focus on Italian—English bilingualism, 
as in our students’ responses. A wider scope of attention to a number of languages both in 
courses and services for plurilinguals and in state schools, not limited to prestigious European 
languages, seems appropriate to take full advantage of the linguistic resources and to provide for 
the needs of the multicultural and multilingual society already characterizing the city of Rome. 

London Review of Education 169 

Notes on the contributor 

Michela Menghini is a researcher in English Language and Translation at the Language Centre of the 
University of Rome’Foro Italico’. Her main research interests are corpus linguistics and the application and 
development of computer tools for language analysis and, more recently, the phenomenon of multilingualism 
and multiculturality and their effects on education.Among her recent publications is The LUCIDE project 
and network’, in European Projects in University Language Centres (2015) edited by Carmen Argondizzo. 

Appendix A 

Interview questions: Italian version/adaptation 
Questionario - Multilinguismo a Roma - Progetto ‘LUCIDE’ 

1. Qual e il suo ruolo/la sua posizione e che tipo di lavoro svolge? Per che tipo di agenzia/ 
istituzione lavora? 

2. Qual e la sua etnia d’origine? 

3. Si considera monolingue/bilingue/plurilingue? 

4. Pensa che il problema del multilinguismo sia una questione delicata a Roma? 

5. Nel nostro studio preliminare di esempi diversi di multilinguismo, ci siamo resi conto 
che nelle citta multilingui alcune lingue sono piu visibili di altre. Nella sua sfera d’azione 
ci sono lingue particolarmente importanti o visibili, o lingue (neglette? e) meno visibili? 

6. C’e una lingua che pensa dovrebbe essere sostenuta di piu nell’uso o nella visibilita? 

7. La coesistenza di piu lingue in una citta pone delle sfide e delle scelte per il governo 
locale e per le aziende, per esempio in termini di decisioni politiche. E d’accordo col 
modo in cui la citta di Roma affronta il problema del multilinguismo? Puo fornire un 
esempio di una scelta che condivide oppure che non condivide? 

8. Sembrano esserci due modi principali di gestire le barriere linguistiche quando 
incontriamo una lingua che non conosciamo: usare la traduzione o interpretazione, 
oppure usare la tecnologia (per esempio con sistemi di traduzione automatica online). 
Nella sua esperienza, come viene gestita la traduzione/interpretazione nel suo settore 
d’azione? Pensa sia gestita in modo appropriate? 

9. Ha avuto esperienze recenti di difficolta incontrate da singoli individui o da gruppi a 
causa della loro non adeguata conoscenza dell’italiano? 

10. Cambierebbe qualcosa nell’approccio al multilinguismo in questa citta? 

I I. Quali lingue parla o usa nella sfera privata e in quella professionale? 

12. Pensa di apprendere facilmente le lingue? Le piace? 

13. Se ha appreso altre lingue, qual e stata I'esperienza di apprendimento piu significativa 
per lei? 

14. Vuole aggiungere altro? 

Appendix Bl 

Interview questions: Italian version/adaptation for university students 
Questionario - Multilinguismo a Roma - Progetto ‘LUCIDE’ 

1. Che corso universitario frequenti? Svolgi anche un qualche tipo di attivita lavorativa? Se 
si, quale attivita e in che ruolo? 

2. Qual e la tua etnia d’origine/nazionalita? 

3. Ti consideri monolingue/bilingue/plurilingue? 

170 Michela Menghini 

4. Pensi che il multilinguismo sia una questione importante/delicata a Roma? 

5. Nel nostro studio di esempi di multilinguismo, ci siamo resi conto che nelle citta 
multilingui alcune lingue sono piu visibili di altre. Secondo la tua esperienza, ci sono 
lingue particolarmente importanti o visibili, o lingue trascurate e meno visibili a Roma? 

6. C’e una lingua che pensi dovrebbe essere sostenuta di piu nell’uso o nella visibility? 

7. La coesistenza di piu lingue in una citta pone delle sfide e delle scelte per il governo 
locale e per le aziende, per esempio in termini di decisioni politiche. Sei d’accordo col 
modo in cui la citta di Roma affronta il problema del multilinguismo? Puoi fornire un 
esempio di una scelta che condividi oppure che non condividi? 

8. Sembrano esserci due modi principali di gestire le barriere linguistiche quando 
incontriamo una lingua che non conosciamo: usare la traduzione o interpretazione, 
oppure usare la tecnologia (per esempio con sistemi di traduzione automatica online). 
Nella tua esperienza, come viene gestita la traduzione/interpretazione nell’ambito 
universitario? E in quello lavorativo (se lavori)? Pensi sia gestita in modo appropriate? 

9. Per lo studio e/o il lavoro, tu personalmente utilizzi strumenti tecnologici per tradurre 
o per studiare lingue straniere? Se si, puoi darci qualche esempio? 

10. Hai avuto esperienze recenti di difficolta incontrate da singoli individui o da gruppi a 
causa della loro non adeguata conoscenza dell’italiano? 

I I. Cambieresti qualcosa nell’approccio al multilinguismo in questa citta? 

12. Quali lingue parli o usi nella sfera privata e in quella universitaria/professionale? 

13. Pensi di apprendere facilmente le lingue? Ti piace? 

14. Se hai appreso altre lingue, qual e stata I’esperienza di apprendimento piu significativa 
per te? 

15. Vuoi aggiungere altro? 

Appendix B2 

Interview questions: English version/adaptation for university students 
Questionnaire - Multilingualism in Rome -‘LUCIDE’ Project 

1. Which university course do you attend? Do you also work? If you work, what type of 
work do you do? 

2. What is your ethnic origin/nationality? 

3. Do you consider yourself to be monolingual/bilingual/plurilingual? 

4. Do you think that the issue of multilingualism is an important/sensitive matter in Rome? 

5. In our study of different examples of multilingualism we’ve noticed that in multilingual 
cities some languages are more visible than others. In your experience, are there any 
particularly important or visible languages in Rome? Any neglected or less visible 

6. Is there any language you think should have more support in use or in visibility? 

7. The co-existence of multiple languages in a city brings with it some challenges and 
choices for local government and companies, for example in terms of policy decisions. 
Do you agree with the way that Rome approaches the issue of multilingualism? Can you 
give an example of an approach that you agree or disagree with? 

8. There seem to be two main ways of handling language barriers when we encounter 
a language we don’t understand, by either using human translation/interpretation, or 
with language technology (for example, with online translation for instance). In your 

London Review of Education 171 

experience, how are translation/interpretation handled at university? What about at 
work (if you work)? Do you think it is handled appropriately? 

9. For study and/or work, do you use technology to translate or study foreign languages? 
If you do, can you give us some examples? 

10. Have you recently witnessed difficulties experienced by an individual or group because 
of a lack of proficiency in Italian, in Rome? 

I I. Would you change anything in the approach to multilingualism in Rome? 

12. Which languages do you speak or interact with in your personal and university/work 

13. Would you say that you easily learn foreign languages? Do you like learning foreign 

14. If you have learned other languages, what has been the most significant language learning 
experience for you? 

15. Anything we haven’t asked and you would like to add? 


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IOE Press 

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Mehmedbegovic, D. (2016) Editorial:‘Multilingualism in education in cosmopolitan cities: Insights into 
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Nicolaou, A., Parmaxi, A., Papadima-Sophocleous, S., and Boglou, D. (2016) ‘Language education in a 
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Welikala.T. (2008) ‘Disempowering and dislocating: How learners from diverse cultures read the role of the 
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